Monthly Archives: May 2016

“On The Road”…again, in search of a ghost.

Of all the marshes, in all the refuges, in the entire world, it flew into mine. Well not exactly mine, rather the Federal Government’s refuge. However this particular refuge is Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, a relatively short 2 hour drive due west from Cincinnati near the lovely town of Seymour Indiana. I and Jon are on a mission, a new life bird for me mission.

It’s 3 am Saturday morning, and I’ve been tossing and turning for the last 45 minutes just thinking about our trip today. I finally give in and walk into the kitchen and fire up the coffee maker, a vital resource for these early morning trips. While the urn fills with the wake-up juice I shower and dress for yet another rainy day. At 4 am after a quick breakfast and the gear stored away in the bird-mobile, I’m off to the gas station for a quick splash and dash.

At 4:30 am I arrive at Jon’s house. He was planning on doing the driving today but when i suggested we leave at 4:30 I included the offer to drive to make up for the sleep deprivation Jon was going to experience. I really wanted to get to Muscatatuck as early as possible. My original plan if Jon wasn’t going was to leave the house at 3:30 am. I don’t want to dip on this bird. This bird is a big deal, in a little package.

You see it all started a week ago last Sunday after I got home from my trip to Lake Erie. It was in the evening when Jon texted me and asked if I had checked the Indiana Listserv. It turns out a local Cincinnati birder (who, by the way is a very good birder) heard a Black Rail at Endicott Marsh, which is located inside Muscatatuck NWR.

A BLACK RAIL! One of the most elusive birds in all of North America, is just 2 hours from my house. And despite just being 2 hours away, it seemed to take forever to get there once we pulled away from Jon’s house.

We pulled through the refuge gate at 6:30ish and headed back to Endicott Marsh. During the week building up to this morning I’ve been on Indiana’s Listserv checking multiple times each day waiting for verification that the bird was still there. And each day someone reported that it was, calling from different locations in the marsh. A confirmation on Friday sealed the deal to make the trip early Saturday morning.

We were the first to arrive. The crunch of the gravel under the tires and the Red-winged Blackbirds was the only sound heard as I rummaged in the back seat getting my harness on and attaching my bins and camera. Jon heard the bird first, as usual. It wasn’t the typical “ke-ke-kerr” call we normally associate the Black Rail to. After adjusting my hearing to other sounds other than Red-winged Blackbirds and Sedge Wrens, I heard the bird. This time it was the “ik-ik-ik” call, further out and easily overlooked if you weren’t really listening closely.

IMG_4769Endicott Marsh. From the tree line to the gravel road, to just about where I’m standing is all there is of this marsh. Not very large but home to a Black Rail.

For the next couple of hours we birded around the area, always listening for the Black Rail, hoping it would move closer. Eventually it changed it’s call to the more familiar “ke-ke-kerr”, which gave me a bit of satisfaction knowing beyond a shadow of doubt the bird was there. Tick off another lifer.

IMG_4775I leave you with a very wet Yellow-breasted Chat


Lake Erie Birding Wrap-Up

In the blink of an eye it’s over. 4 1/2 days of some of the best birding at one of the best migrant traps in all the midwest, the shores of Lake Erie in May. This year for the first time we stayed in a cabin at Maumee Bay State Park, and the accommodations were great. There’s something to be said about having your own kitchen and living space with big comfy chairs and couch to help you unwind after a day of birding. Our cabin set next to a pond where you could watch Canadian Geese with their chicks feed in the grass. A beaver glide through the water as warblers called from the thick bushes next to you. At night American Woodcocks would put on display flights as a Screech Owl called off in the distance. We enjoyed our stay so much we made next years reservation for the same cabin right before we left.

But the reason we’re here are for the birds. And the weather conditions couldn’t have been more of a challenge than those days we spent there. We really only had one good day of birding when the temps were warm and the sun was out. The other times it was wet, windy, cool,  and perfect for birding. While others may be waiting in their car for the rain to stop, not me. Throw on my rain jacket and off I go. Saturday was particularly windy, but then the birds come down from the tops of the trees making it easier to see them at eye level.

And as you would expect the boardwalk was packed to the gills. What with festival participants and everyone else, the place easily turned into a human traffic jam at times. And just like you never say “bomb” in a crowded airport, the same holds true if you speak”Mourning Warbler”. You better mean it because the crush of people will be upon you quickly. And this is where being an early riser pays off. Being at the boardwalk well before sun rise has it’s definite advantages. Fewer people makes for easier birding by ear, fewer human traffic jams and giant tripods blocking the way.

And as you’d expect the Auto Tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was open daily with the added treat of having some added loops to drive. MS-5 was open for the first time in a long time. In reality I only remember once when it was open in the autumn several years ago. It was that time I got my “Lifer” Black-bellied Plover, in MS-5. And just north of MS-5 is Pool 3, and I’ve never seen that one open. Bravo to those folks at Ottawa for allowing us to extend our exploring a bit.

So once again it was a fabulous trip, one which I’d highly recommend even if it was for only a day. If I can’t convince you, then maybe some of my crappy pictures will help.

IMG_4592Scarlet Tanager

IMG_4595Blackpoll Warbler

IMG_4600The ever present Yellow Warbler

IMG_4608Magnolia Warbler

IMG_4611Least Flycatcher

IMG_4615Common Yellowthroat

IMG_4623Baby Eastern Screech Owl

IMG_4629A terrible photo of a Prothonotary Warbler

IMG_4635Common Nighthawk

IMG_4636Swainson’s Thrush

IMG_4641Another baby Eastern Screech Owl

IMG_4644Great Blue Heron

IMG_4647White-crowned Sparrow

IMG_4684Blue-headed Vireo

IMG_4688Palm Warbler

IMG_4698Red-eyed Vireo

IMG_4711American Woodcock

IMG_4718Wilson’s Warbler

IMG_4731American Redstart

IMG_4752Chestnut-sided Warbler

IMG_4761Cape May Warbler

IMG_4766Nashville Warbler

Notable birds for the trip includes:

  1. European Starling
  2. Common Grackle
  3. Brown-headed Cowbird
  4. Red-winged Blackbird
  5. American Robin
  6. Swainson’s Thrush
  7. Northern Cardinal
  8. Black-capped Chickadee
  9. Tufted Titmouse
  10. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  11. House Wren
  12. Carolina Wren
  13. Marsh Wren
  14. Gray Catbird
  15. Tree Swallow
  16. Barn Swallow
  17. Bank Swallow
  18. Purple Martin
  19. Chimney Swift
  20. Cliff Swallow
  21. Baltimore Oriole
  22. Orchard Oriole
  23. Belted Kingfisher
  24. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  25. Hairy Woodpecker
  26. Downy Woodpecker
  27. Northern Flicker
  28. Red-tailed Hawk
  29. American Kestrel
  30. Bald Eagle
  31. Cooper’s hawk
  32. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  33. Killdeer
  34. Semipalmated Plover
  35. Black-bellied Plover
  36. Least Sandpiper
  37. Pectoral Sandpiper
  38. Greater Yellowleg
  39. Lesser Yellowleg
  40. Short-billed Dowitcher
  41. Curlew Sandpiper-Lifer
  42. Dunlin
  43. American Woodcock
  44. Trumpeter Swan
  45. Mallard
  46. Blue-winged Teal
  47. Wood Duck
  48. Canada Goose
  49. American Coot
  50. Common Gallinule
  51. Pied-billed Grebe
  52. Great Blue Heron
  53. Great Egret
  54. Wilson’s Phalarope
  55. Double-crested Cormorant
  56. Herring Gull
  57. Ring-billed Gull
  58. Great Black-backed Gull
  59. Caspian Tern
  60. Snowy Egret
  61. Green Heron
  62. Black-crowned Night Heron
  63. Brown Thrasher
  64. Scarlet Tanager
  65. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  66. Indigo Bunting
  67. American Goldfinch
  68. House Sparrow
  69. Field Sparrow
  70. Song Sparrow
  71. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  72. Chipping Sparrow
  73. White-throated Sparrow
  74. White-crowned Sparrow
  75. White-breasted Nuthatch
  76. Barred Owl
  77. Eastern Screech Owl
  78. Great Horned Owl
  79. American Pipit
  80. Whip Poor Will
  81. Sandhill Crane
  82. Turkey Vulture
  83. Sora
  84. House Finch
  85. Eastern Meadowlark
  86. Pigeon
  87. Mourning Dove
  88. Red-eyed Vireo
  89. Philadelphia Vireo
  90. Yellow-throated Vireo
  91. Warbling Vireo
  92. Blue-headed Vireo
  93. Least Flycatcher
  94. Great-crested Flycatcher
  95. Eastern Phoebe
  96. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  97. Willow Flycatcher
  98. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  99. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  100. Eastern Kingbird
  101. Blue Jay
  102. Eastern Bluebird
  103. Northern Mockingbird
  104. Cedar Waxwing
  105. Northern Waterthrush
  106. Common Yellowthroat
  107. Golden-winged Warbler
  108. Canada Warbler
  109. Magnolia Warbler
  110. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  111. Prothonotary Warbler
  112. Nashville Warbler
  113. Tennessee Warbler
  114. Blackpoll Warbler
  115. Black and White Warbler
  116. Black-throated Blue warbler
  117. Black-throated Green Warbler
  118. Yellow Warbler
  119. Hooded Warbler
  120. Kentucky Warbler
  121. Blackburnian Warbler
  122. Cape May Warbler
  123. American Redstart
  124. Orange-crowned Warbler
  125. Northern Parula
  126. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  127. Prairie Warbler
  128. Palm Warbler
  129. Bay-breasted Warbler
  130. Wilson’s Warbler


“On The Road” with a added Surprise

So far my trip to the shores of Lake Erie has been a huge success with loads of birds, which include everyone’s favorite Wood Warblers. Now I haven’t added up my totals for the whole trip, considering that my trip is still going on and there are still birds to see. But this little side story started back on Thursday evening when Kathy and I were enjoying a adult beverage at a local brewery. It was 5 pm as I connected to their wifi to check my email.  I’m normally don’t feel the need to check my email, or other social media sites constantly while I’m out birding. My focus is on the birds, not my smart phone, which almost cost me a new life bird.
So it while I was sipping my first tasty brew I read the rare bird of alert of a Curlew Sandpipier just to the west of Toledo. The first posting time was 12:30. Almost 5 hours have gone by from the initial sighting with countless more eBird reports jamming up their servers. As exciting as this sighting is I had to hold back my anxiety to sprint off since we had made plans for the evening which was keeping me busy. My only hope was the bird sticking it out through the night. As the evening wore on the last report was a 7 pm sighting, which gave me hope. I immediately texted Jon to fill him in on the situation,  since he was driving up right after work.
After Jon arrived at his cabin I gave him a call to finalize the details for Friday morning. He was picking me up at 6:15 and with the 45 minute drive we were hoping for enough sun to spot the bird.
The drive wasn’t too terribly bad, we only got turned around once. But we got ourselves un-lost and pulled up on this wonderfully flooded field lined with a couple dozed birders scanning the field. Jon pulled up and we grabbed our scopes as a young women motioned to us to hurry up. We found the bird.
The sun was right in our faces so all the images I shot were horribly back-lit. This bird is in full breeding plumage and is quite a sight to see, however the pictures I took you can’t see hardly any of the coloration or details. Nor was I waiting around for hours till the sun moved to behond us. I may go back zfter we leave tomorrow to try again, but in the mean time here’s the bird.


Notes From The Field

Spring Valley Wildlife Area

Rails are notorious from being secretive and skulking. Normally we tend to hear them as they call from the tall reeds and grasses of marshes. As birders we home in to their call or grunts and wait patiently as we watch the grasses twitch and move as the move about, never showing themselves unless absolutely necessary. At times we do get lucky and catch one out in the open or along the edge of the cattails, as was the case yesterday.

As I stepped onto the boardwalk at Spring Valley yesterday morning the first of 2 Virginia Rails raced off into the grass never to be seen again except for the “grunts” they vocalize. Angry at myself for spooking one off and missing a great photo op, I satisfied myself photographing a Sora that was feeding along the edge of the grass, never venturing out too far as these are really spooky birds and will dash back into the thicket in a blink.

IMG_4520Not my best effort, but diagnostic.

As I was growing weary chasing the Sora for the best angle to photograph a Virginia Rail close by started to “Grunt”. I followed the call. Spotted the bird. Crept closer. Now here’s a exceptional effort.

IMG_4565I’ve tried for years to get a decent photograph of a Virginia Rail, and yesterday was that day.

Notes From The Field

Cincinnati Nature Center/ Rowe Woods

Today is the first day of my annual Spring vacation. And this year marks the 7th time I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to northern Ohio for spring migration, particularly warblers. The Biggest Week In American Birding Festival is also going on so it’s sure to be packed on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, as well as Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and all along the water front.

This year for the first time we’re staying in a cabin at Maumee Bay State Park. Right after we got home from last years trip I made reservations so we wouldn’t miss out. Jon and his family stay in the cabins every year and besides being very nice they’re conveniently located to all the prime birding spots all along Lake Erie.

So this Wednesday we’re checking in to our cabin and hopefully get a little birding in before and extra early start on Thursday. I’m also hoping for better opportunities of getting better photographs of all species of birds I see. Like this Blackburnian Warbler I was able to get while doing a little birding this morning at Rowe Woods.